US Citizen Arrested for Helping North Korea Avoid Sanctions With Cryptocurrency and Other Technology

Updated: 2019-12-02 15:50:23

A U.S. citizen residing in Singapore has been charged for allegedly helping North Korea avoid sanctions through the usage of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.

Virgil Griffith, 36, was arrested in the Los Angeles International Airport on Nov. 28, and is slated to appear in court on Dec. 2. He is facing a maximum term of 20 years.

“Despite receiving warnings not to go, Griffith allegedly traveled to one of the United States’ foremost adversaries, North Korea, where he taught his audience how to use blockchain technology to evade sanctions,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “By this complaint, we begin the process of seeking justice for such conduct.”

The DOJ said in a statement that he violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by traveling to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to give technical advice and a presentation.

Cryptocurrency miners on racks
Cryptocurrency miners on racks at the HydroMiner cryptocurrency farming operation near Waidhofen an der Ybbs, Austria, on April 25, 2018. (Reuters/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo)

“As alleged, Virgil Griffith provided highly technical information to North Korea, knowing that this information could be used to help North Korea launder money and evade sanctions,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman for the Southern District of New York. “In allegedly doing so, Griffith jeopardized the sanctions that both Congress and the president have enacted to place maximum pressure on North Korea’s dangerous regime.”

“There are deliberate reasons sanctions have been levied on North Korea. The country and its leader pose a literal threat to our national security and that of our allies,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. “Mr. Griffith allegedly traveled to North Korea without permission from the federal government, and with knowledge what he was doing was against the law. We cannot allow anyone to evade sanctions, because the consequences of North Korea obtaining funding, technology, and information to further its desire to build nuclear weapons put the world at risk. It’s even more egregious that a U.S. citizen allegedly chose to aid our adversary.”

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